"Ever since Moorestown indicated they would make this a condition of approval, we have strenuously objected," said Frank Wisniewski, the developers' lawyer. "This is a case of a town asking one owner to use its property to provide access for another owner, and we don't think that's legal or justified."
The developers of East Gate Square, the East Gate Center Limited Partnership, are joined in the lawsuit by Bell Atlantic Properties Inc., which owns a parcel of land affected by the required road changes. In court papers, the two groups call last month's Planning Board ruling "arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, oppressive, unlawful and not based on the facts."
They also allege that the Planning Board's ruling requires the developers to "utilize their properties improperly and illegally to benefit . . . the owners and operators of the Moorestown Mall."
The developers have asked to be freed from making the changes, or to be paid $9 million as compensation. The township has 20 days to respond to the complaint.
"We have made other road improvements required by the Planning Board,
because they were all done for the benefit of the East Gate project," Wisniewski said. "But what the developers are now being asked to do is use their property to benefit the Moorestown Mall."
Mall officials declined comment yesterday.
Covering nearly 17 acres along Lenola Road and Nixon Drive behind the Moorestown Mall, East Gate Square II is expected to house two restaurants and 134,250 square feet of shopping space when completed at the end of 1994.
The required roads would link the Moorestown Mall to the East Gate Square II center at two points - by extending and widening an existing access road
from the intersection of Nixon Drive and the Interstate 295 ramp and by connecting the mall to a driveway at the rear of the new shopping center.
"The feeling was that from a traffic standpoint it was necessary to connect the two," said Harry McVey, the township's director of community development. McVey directed questions on the lawsuit to township solicitor Jeremy Countess, who did not return a phone call.
The construction of East Gate Square II represents the second phase in the development of the East Gate Square shopping complex, which is itself part of the East Gate II development project involving 140 acres surrounding the Moorestown Mall. The East Gate Center Limited Partnership is developing East Gate Square and East Gate Square II on 60 acres of the land, while Bell Atlantic Properties Inc. is developing the remaining 80 acres.
East Gate Square officially opened eight stores last month - including Comp USA and Office Max - just across the street from the East Gate Square II site on Nixon Drive, amid much fanfare that it would help turn the Moorestown area into a regional shopping district.
To accommodate the expectation that the mall and East Gate Square would become interdependent, more than $12 million in road improvements were made that link the complexes to major highways, including a new exit ramp off Interstate 295 south.
But according to the lawsuit, in requiring the latest road improvements, Moorestown is condemning private land for public use. The developers should therefore "be paid the reasonable value of the loss . . . and of the benefits conferred upon the public and upon the private property owners who would be benefited," the suit says. That cost, the developers said, is $9 million.
"That is a fair price based upon the total cost of all the roads that benefit the mall," Wisniewski said.